Happily Ali After
By Ali Wentworth
240 pages, $25.99
By Stephanie Shapiro
NEWS BOOK REVIEWER
Ali Wentworth has been around show biz long enough to appear in a couple of dozen movies and television shows, and already has one best-seller under her belt. She was a correspondent on “Oprah” once a week for a while, played the shrew girlfriend who gets dumped for Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space,” and even had a TV show somewhere in cable land.
So far, she seems to have stayed in the shadow of, say, Tina Fey.
“Happily Ali After” may push her toward the bigger spotlight. It’s so funny that just to retype the good parts I marked in pencil would stretch over a page and a half of the newspaper. That would still leave out the places that need some space to set up or that involve verbiage best left out of the family paper.
She recalls the tradition of Erma Bombeck (“The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”), Roseanne Barr and Chevy Chase; merely describing her daily life usually sends the story on a turn for the hilarious.
She goes fishing one day and winds up in the hospital with 60 stitches in her leg, Percocet in her bloodstream and a book deadline to meet. Another time, her husband, the world’s worst driver, causes an accident, so Wentworth manipulates their two daughters to be sullen to him. Then she repents: “My mind raced. Should I go with hysterical tears” … Do that thing in bed women never want to do but save for emergencies?” She does “that thing.”
No need to yawn here – Wentworth is married to George Stephanopoulos. Yes, the longtime Clinton strategist, fixer and financial supporter. The political operative with a master’s degree in theology from Oxford University. Not a main character, he appears from time to time in various domestic travails.
Historical accuracy is not an issue here. This is Wentworth’s version of how it felt to her at the time, say, when the spray tan rubbed off all over her clothes and bedding and whether she had an ocean-themed wedding complete with a blue cake.
She went to fancy schools and burst upon the TV scene in “In Living Color.” She lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in a $1.3 million apartment with Stephanopoulos, their two preteen daughters and a pair of obese dachshunds. She won’t run short of interesting family members any time soon: She has a mother, two stepmothers, a father, two stepfathers, two siblings and some half-siblings. Her husband’s father is an official of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Wentworth’s mom was Nancy Reagan’s social secretary; a grandfather published the London Sunday Times; one pair of her grandparents spent part of the 1920s larking about Asia as they explored Tibet, China and Mongolia.
The premise of “Happily Ali After” is dealing with the anxieties and misgivings that seize her as she faces her 50th birthday and the sometimes unfortunate remedies she resorts to in trying to overcome them. Among the inspirational sayings, various physical regimens and a psychic thrown in, she looks for a way to become “Ali 2.0.”
After trying and abandoning every gym and workout in existence, she discovers that a friend is married to a plastic surgeon, a Botox specialist who injects leftovers into his own skin. (This chapter could have used fewer “oys” to remind us that the friend and doctor are Jewish.) Upshot: not a recommendation for prolonged reliance on the injections to preserve one’s youthful freshness, but if you try it, better have some ice around for the pain and swelling.)
No stranger to brand names, Wentworth throws a silver bracelet into a burning Duraflame log. Later, “with the feeling of an EpiPen being jabbed in my thigh, I remembered that the bracelet was actually mine!” She buys a demure yet flirty Tory Burch dress.
She agrees to deliver a commencement speech at a Midwestern college three times in one day on the strength of the school’s promise of a private plane. “If I was going to disappear without a trace, then I would do so on a Bombardier Challenger 300.” You don’t want to ever fly in the craft she wound up on. “I noticed my air vent was duct taped shut” should be a clue to why.
The faculty members at her commencement speech wear Merrell shoes, “sensible walking shoes that people from Palo Alto wear.” In Malibu, it’s cool to have a Frank Gehry beach shack. Chanel No. 5 smells “like an old lady pickled in white vinegar.” No mercy shown here; it has to be white vinegar.
She also summons up shared experiences with her audiences. She stares “in a way I hadn’t since the verdict of the O.J. trial.” By the third repetition of the graduation speech, “I was in my own version of ‘Groundhog Day.’ ”
Then we have, “The room reeked like a hundred dead rats in a Dumpster in July.” Is that a great example of her snappy way with similes or part of the brand-name section?
Her mind takes that extra step from the cliche to the weird: “I didn’t want to be taken away in a straitjacket to the Missouri State Mental Institute. The one in Palm Beach, maybe.” She distinguishes between marital transgressions. “You catch him in bed with your sister” is one thing; “you catch him in bed with your brother” is quite another.
Nor is spiritual enlightenment neglected. When Wentworth was a little girl, the housekeeper vacuumed up a canary. “I think I forgave her,” Wentworth recalls. “It all got overshadowed by the fact that she was dealing heroin out of our home. But I did hold a grudge.” She has a knack for hitting those dissonant notes.
What can you say about someone who dresses up on Halloween as Sunny von Bulow to take her children trick or treating? (The costume involved pajamas stuffed with pills. The daughters, ages 4 and 6, thought their mom went as herself.)
At first, this book seemed like fluff to be set aside until more serious literature could be dealt with. Now, this is no “Don Quixote,” offering cosmic messages wrapped in satire, but it is funny and it does offer food for serious thought among the ludicrous situations.
It’s a book to keep in the car or on the porch. It has short chapters, suitable for parking lots or waiting rooms. Some restraint might be needed at the funnier parts, lest nearby observers wonder.
It takes about four hours to read cover to cover and then more time to go back to this or that page. And to ponder how otherwise bright people wind up with the unlikely spouses they choose.
Stephanie Shapiro is a former News writer and editor.